Confuse about Amazon S3 Vs Amazon Cloudfront ? Don’t Be !

So you heard about Amazon S3 or Cloudfront or Content Delivery Network / CDN that can help you in your internet life, but cannot really get the gist as of what is the different mainly between Amazon S3 and Amazon Cloudfront? I will try to give the big picture explanation below. Forgive me if I leave some glory details, but I promise you, you will get the core understanding. Let start!

Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service)

As the name implied, basically this service is about having private online hard disk on the internet. This is a very special “harddisk” because virtually unlimited in size and you  don’t have any worry whether it will crash or not. Amazon will take care of it. In short basically: a trusted unlimited hard drive on the internet.

What’s the main differences between all other “online storage”? Fast, Cheap (only 15c per Gigabyte), Pay as You Go and Virtually Unlimited.

Additionally, you can choose where your “harddisk” will be. Amazon at this moment have 3 big data centers, so you can choose between : USA (Standard), North California (USA) and Europe (Ireland)


Why people want to put big hard drive on internet ?

  • For backup: remember that from time to time you need to “upgrade” your computer harddisk because it’s full. Imagine that all your file can be store somewhere and you only put the one that you need to work on. This is one of the solution.
  • For collaboration: imagine if you develop a report, or a research or something else with your friend or colleague from different country or even city. How do you want to exchange the data efficiently? Not by email for sure…. This is one of the solution
  • As repository: an online application such SmugMug photo sharing site or even Twitter, need to put their data somewhere. So rather than buying a server and array of disk and maintain themselves, they would rather outsourcing it to Amazon who can handle as much data as possible.

So, there your have it. Just an unlimited hard disk on internet with the sole purpose to store and retrieve data.

Amazon Cloudfront (Content Delivery Network)

Now imagine as pictured above, your “harddisk” is located in US. But you are now living in Paris, France. When you access the data, you will basically download it from US and the data travel all the way to Europe, so it will probably rather slow.

Another example is a website. Say you have a photo you put on your website and you also have friends all over the world that want to see this funny photo of yours. Then the photo will be downloaded all the way to the users from your “harddisk”, right. See illusration below:

centralizedaccessBasically you will have a centralized access. It’s okay if the user access it not at the same time, but how about if many user want to access the same item at the same time. It’s not only slow down the server, but also slow down the network. The solution is what dubbed as CDN or Content Delivery Network or Content Distribution Network as illustrated below.


Imagine that Amazon have a network of data centre all over the world which is connected each other as one network. Now no matter where the user are, they will get the delivery of the file that they want to access or download from the closest data center. Hence not only the time to delivery will be faster, but the capacity to handle bigger load also a big advantage.

Amazon call this service as Amazon Cloudfront. The purpose is to deliver your data (or “asset”) the fastest way possible. So basically Amazon Cloudfront is an “add on” to S3 service. You need to have S3 service in order to get the CDN.

In Amazon Language

Your “harddisk” is what they call “bucket” – this is under Amazon S3 service. Their data centres they call them “Edge Location”. When they say “enable distribution”, that’s mean making your harddisk accessible from all data center (basically they put the copy of the file every where). Your bucket will still be in one place. If some data has been accessed for quite some time, that data will be removed from the distribution and only available at your original bucket. Amazon charge a fee to transfer the data from your bucket to all the data centre but the usage will determine the bulk of your bill.

If you start paying Amazon big money, that’s mean your customer are also very big and you should make a lot more money than what you pay to Amazon. Good luck !

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7 Comments on Confuse about Amazon S3 Vs Amazon Cloudfront ? Don’t Be !

  1. SalmanAbbas007 on Wed, 26th Jan 2011 3:40
  2. Thanks a lot for clearing the confusion, Denis. 🙂

  3. Tej Kiran Sharma on Tue, 19th Apr 2011 16:00
  4. Hi Denis Kristanda,

    You did write really nice content. Most of the people are not able to get its use case and importance.

    I am for development team of Bucket Explorer. It is a good package of multiple services like amazon s3, CloudFront, Import Export, SNS etc.


    Tej Kiran

  5. Nikki on Tue, 13th Sep 2011 23:55
  6. That’s really helpful, thank you very much!

  7. Matt Rhys-Davies on Wed, 14th Sep 2011 5:39
  8. Thanks for the clarification…

  9. Nikki on Wed, 4th Jan 2012 3:24
  10. I just started with cloud front. I have a VPS ad on of the sites I use it to take off the server and memory load. But I don’t have a bucket set up. It pulls directly from the VPS. So would it be better to have all the files stored on the S3 and then Cloudfront load from the S3?

    I know you really don’t have to have the S with cloudfront, but wondering if it will help to improve it more?

  11. Sitab Bhandari on Mon, 3rd Feb 2014 5:58
  12. good one…….But can we use S3 or Cloudfront for dynamic web content.

  13. Mike on Sat, 10th May 2014 3:46
  14. Great ! Super simple to understand, referring the link to my beginners in my team. We are big Consumer of CloudFront services for our marketing needs.

    If you are an advanced user want to look at S3 / CloudFront cost and consumption levels, look for CloudFront & S3 log analysis.

    There are host of tools available for this like s3stat, cloudlytics, qloudstat among others. They all are equally good but we have been exploring cloudlytics lately and liking it so far !!

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